I’ve come to the conclusion that Aileen and I parent weirdly. But I’ve also come to the conclusion that so does everyone else. When each of us looks at other parents, there are almost invariably some components of their parenting we would love to imitate, but others that strike us as, well, a little bit weird. This is why it is rare, or perhaps even impossible, to find a parenting book that we would follow completely rather than only partially. And that’s well and good—every family is different, every set of parents unique, every context distinct from every other. While the Bible gives us the broad outline of parenting, it leaves us to fill in the details in ways we believe are most faithful.
John and Cindy Raquet parent as weirdly as any of us, but their weirdnesses generally overlap with my own, and it’s for that reason that I so enjoyed reading their book Purposeful and Persistent Parenting. Thirty-one brief chapters form a good-sized book that offers a helpful combination of theory and practice.
The Raquets begin in just the right place—with a look at grace-filled parenting, by which they mean a kind of parenting in which the parents acknowledge that they themselves are the recipients of God’s grace and are then eager to display a similar grace to their children. “As grace-filled parents our relationship with our children is not based on their performance. We love them whether they obey us or not. We act in their best interest whether they obey us or not. They are just as much our sons or daughters whether they obey us or not. Our relationship with them and attitude toward them is not contingent on how they respond to us.”
Another pair of crucial opening chapters counter contemporary attitudes by reminding readers that God counts children as a blessing more than a burden and that God’s calling on parents is not first to impress or befriend their children, but to simply parent them. “If God has given you children, then you can be confident that it is God’s will for you to parent them. It is imperative for us as parents to understand that our primary role is to be our child’s parent. When we feel like we need to be more than that, we lose confidence and can start second-guessing ourselves, to the point that we start looking to the child to be making decisions that we should be making.”
The chapters that follow deal with consistency in parenting, with helping children understand they are not the center of the family (or of the universe, for that matter), with spiritual training, with developing an orientation that counts others ahead of self, and with physical discipline. In other brief chapters they deal with mealtimes, sitting still, whining, reading together, doing chores, setting family schedules, and so on. They conclude with a strong call for parents to align themselves toward faithfulness more than results. “To be sure, God has set things up such that there is a strong connection between what we as parents do and how our children respond, but it is a wrong or even arrogant attitude to think that we completely determine how our children think and behave by our parenting.”
It bears mentioning that, by their own admission, the Raquets live with an unusually high level of intentionality and this shows in some of their practical guidance—such as a family schedule that breaks an entire week into 15-minute increments and something called “toy-time tapes” which must be the most Type-A practice I’ve ever encountered in any parenting book. That said, one of the book’s strengths is that the Raquets are clear that though we all must follow the Bible’s clear commands, the rest of what they offer is just their own advice that readers are free to follow or to shrug off. “We … don’t want you to feel overly burdened by anything we wrote if you are blessed with a more relaxed personality. There are times we would have been blessed to have a few more relaxed, easygoing personalities in our home! We are thankful that God has made His local family, the church, with many different body parts, all with unique functions and gifts, according to His good plans for a balanced, functioning body!” Thus, if you don’t appreciate something like their “blue-tape boundaries,” you can mine the principles behind the practice, then find your own way to implement them.
If there is a weakness to the book, it may be the relatively cursory focus on the local church. Though the Raquets do write about children and the church, it is largely in the context of teaching them to sit still or to behave themselves. Even in the chapter about determining whether children are saved or unsaved—a chapter that is otherwise excellent—they neglect to mention the importance of involving pastors in making that determination. Yet children need pastors as much as their parents do and some focus on teaching children how to relate to pastors and when to turn to them for prayer, counsel, and help, would have gone a long way.
And then there is the matter of inculturation. Every book is written within a particular cultural context and is wrapped in certain presuppositions. In this case, the book seems to presuppose that families will be intact with both parents present, and that families will have access to a certain level of means and the privileges that tend to come with it. So, for example, the Raquets strongly express their view that it is very important for parents to protect their children from non-Christian worldviews in their early years, yet there are many people for whom this is very nearly impossible. Think, for example, of a single mom who needs to work to support her family, leaving public schools as her only educational choice, or of families who live in settings where homeschooling is forbidden and Christian schooling unavailable. Similarly, in the chapters dealing with physical discipline, there is no provision for settings where, though spanking may be permitted, the use of an instrument is not (which means parents need to make a careful, thoughtful decision about how they will carry out physical discipline), or settings where spanking is altogether outlawed (which means parents need to make a careful, thoughtful decision about if they will carry out physical discipline). These may be areas where the authors could have made even more of a distinction between principle and practice. All that said, these are relatively minor matters and certainly do not substantially detract from the book’s great strengths.
I have often thought that one of the keys to improving your parenting is to find someone who shares some of your parenting philosophies, preferences, and even eccentricities and to deliberately learn from them. And that’s exactly what Purposeful and Persistent Parenting offers. And though my days of parenting little ones are now long past, I still enjoyed this book very much and learned from it. It is rare among parenting books in this way: I would gladly hand to young parents and tell them, “If you generally follow this book and generally hold to these principles, practices, and preferences, you will do just fine.” But I might also tell them to just skip that bit about toy-time tapes…
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